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Six Strikes, But How Many Teeth?

Reading over Ars Technica’s coverage of its interview with Center for Copyright Information Executive Director Jill Lesser, it’s hard to say how exactly the Copyright Alert System, AKA “six strikes” is going to work.

Lesser emphasized that the system is an “educational program” rather than a punitive measure, and objected to calling it a ‘six strikes’ program, stating that it “isn’t the American version of the French system, and it isn’t a baseball game.”

Each ISP will have its own “mitigation measure,” as Lesser puts it, further muddying the picture of what (if anything) will happen when any given user reaches his or her sixth strike. All that we know at this point is that something will happen, and that something will likely vary from ISP to ISP.

As Ars Technica reports:

[Lesser] said that if a user reaches the fifth or sixth stage, “they are pushed through to a 10 minute educational video,” and if that doesn’t change their behavior, “they are then, from our perspective, out of the program.” At that point, ISPs can make their own decision about what step to take next, including disconnection. Lawsuits could also be filed by rightsholders.

“At that point, all of the tools that the content owners and the ISPs have at their disposal are there,” she said. “ISPs can, and have, taken action based on that. Content owners we know have taken action against large-scale pirates.”

Hopefully, as we get closer to the actual implementation of the system (which will happen by the end of this year, according to Lesser), the participating ISPs will clarify their individual intent with respect to the “mitigation measures” that Lesser referred to. From where we sit today, however, it is hard to see how this program is going to have sufficient teeth to serve as a deterrent to users, or how it will differentiate innocent and unknowing infringement on the part of viewers from intentional, willful infringement.

Having said that, at this point many rights-holders will take whatever help they can get in terms of measures designed to combat digital piracy, so my sense is that they will cross their fingers and take a “wait and see” approach to judging the program.